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Game 6: Missed

June 19, 2013

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(Photos by Kin Man Hui & Edward A. Ornelas of the San Antonio Express-News)

Missed free throws. Missed rebounds. Missed three-pointers. Missed lay-ups. Missed defensive assignments. Missed put-backs. Missed opportunity after missed opportunity.

In what will likely go down as one of the greatest games in NBA history, and will absolutely be forever considered the most catastrophic loss in San Antonio Spurs history, the Miami Heat snatched victory from the jaws of an early offseason with a stunning 103-100 overtime win.

It was a game the Spurs seemingly had in full control most of the way, before ceding that control in the middle of the fourth quarter and then regaining control almost to the very end…when they gave it up for good. Miami didn’t just take control of Game 6, they now have the entire series in a deadly stranglehold from which the Spurs are highly unlikely to extricate themselves.

Everything started out so wonderfully for the Spurs, who staked themselves to a six-point halftime lead, which they stretched to 13 late in the third quarter. And they were able to do this on the broad shoulders of their franchise’s all-time greatest player, who was having one of his all-time greatest games.

Tim Duncan turned back the clock a full decade and absolutely dominated most of the game with a monster 30-point, 17-rebound performance, but his aging body eventually betrayed him as he ran out of gas down the stretch, being held scoreless in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Duncan wasn’t doing it all by himself, but it was damn close. Kawhi Leonard also came up huge – right until the very, very end of regulation – when he managed to completely eradicate the significance of his 22-point, 11-rebound effort with the most crucial missed free throw in franchise history.

The MVP of the Finals through the first five games of the series, sharpshooter Danny Green, was a complete no-show. He went 1-for-7 on the night, making just a single three-pointer in five attempts. Tony Parker seemed to be struggling with his injured hamstring, shooting an abysmal 6-for-23 on the night, although he made two HUGE shots late that could have – SHOULD HAVE – won the game and the title for the Spurs.

But as much as all that hurt, none of those guys – not even Leonard with his fatal missed free throw – are the true goat of the night. There were actually two goats who deserve the lion’s share of the blame for this cataclysmic loss: one on the floor, and one on the bench.

Manu Ginobili had his most outstanding game in years on Sunday in Game 5, after being reinserted into the starting lineup for the first time since 2012. It seemed he had found his long-lost mojo. But tragically for the Spurs, that reborn Manu was replaced in Game 6 by the putrid rotting corpse of what’s left of Ginobili’s waning career.

Ginobili wasn’t just bad in Game 6, he was a massive liability. A strong case could be made for him as Miami Heat MVP in Game 6. The Heat would not still be alive and kicking today if not for Ginobili’s eight – EIGHT – turnovers, each and every one of which was absolutely critical.

But just as big a goat than Ginobili – if not even bigger – is the supposed best coach in the NBA: Gregg Popovich. There is simply no justification whatsoever for the subsitutional decisions he made in the fourth quarter, both resting Duncan and Parker entirely too long early in the quarter when the Heat were erasing the Spurs’ lead, and for two absolutely crucial possessions late in regulation when Duncan was pulled and the Heat got a pair of game-changing second chances on offensive rebounds they likely wouldn’t have if #21 was on the floor.

While the Spurs certainly did more than enough – and then some – to blow this game down the stretch and in overtime, the Heat deserve just as much credit for placing their boot firmly on the Spurs’ neck when the opportunity presented itself. The Spurs epically collapsed AND the Heat spectacularly arose from the dead. But the game would not have ended in a Miami win had either of those things not happened – it took BOTH the Spurs’ collapse AND the Heat’s miraculous clutch effort for that final result.

The Spurs had a fifth championship almost completely within their grasp and let it slip away last night. We’ll find out on Thursday whether or not it slipped away forever.

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